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Why Educators Need to Talk About Race in the Classroom

The last time I looked, the sky was blue. Sure, those Canadian fires turned the sky gray but higher up, it’s still blue. With the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate race as a factor in college admissions, it added to the litany of ways some folks are trying to convince Americans we are in a post-racial society.

I’m here to attest that race still matters. The sky is still blue.

No matter how many court decisions or state laws are passed to ban the mention of race and racism, we still exist, and race is a fact of everyday life. That is why it’s still so vital we talk about race in our classrooms.

With new laws across the country dictating how and what teachers can say about race, it is vital for us all to understand the inherent value of talking about race in the classroom–for all students. My sister and I integrated into an Ohio elementary school in the 80s! We’ve mostly healed from the experience of being chased home every day but that “white is right” air we were exposed to lingered for decades.

I wrote about my experience as an educator who leaned into an assimilation lens to survive in Justice Seekers, published in July 2023. I wrongly thought I needed to offer that same lens for my students until I realized my errors over the course of an education career where I served students in Georgia, New York, and Maryland.

In fact, according to a research paper released by The Aspen Institute, United We Learn

Honoring America’s Racial and Ethnic Diversity In Education, “Schools play an important role in preparing young people to live, work, and thrive in a diverse society. Telling schools to ignore students’ awareness of race, racism, and stereotypes leads to increased prejudice. While families are a primary source of ethnic-racial socialization for youth, educators, and schools also play a fundamental and influential role. Research shows discussing race and racism in school reduces prejudice among White students and students of color.”

Everywhere we turn, race is present. Housing, education, workplace diversity, policing, wealth accumulation, courts, elections, legislation, you name it and race plays a role. Just taking one of these topics–wealth accumulation–shows the past is still present.

In October 2022, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis released a working paper titled, Wealth of Two Nations: The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap, 1860–2020, where they said, “It matters a great deal, then, that White Americans hold 84 percent of total U.S. wealth but makeup only 60 percent of the population—while Black Americans hold 4 percent of the wealth and make up 13 percent of the population.”

They reviewed a data set of the last 150 years to determine how wealth was carried from one generation to the next. “So where does wealth come from? Yesterday’s wealth, mostly. Unlike income, which can change quickly—lose a job, take a new job—wealth builds slowly from interest on previous wealth and new savings from income. For that reason, “it takes a lot of time to build wealth and to close an existing wealth gap, especially if the world around you is not stopping to accumulate wealth,”’ Moritz Kuhn said.

The banning of the discussion of race and racism feels like we are being told the sky isn’t blue. The colorblind lens these politicians and justices are offering fails to recognize the reality of the majority of the American population. All students need to understand the role race plays in history and modern-day life.

I want people to see that blue sky and that Grade Level, Engaging, Affirming, and Meaningful instruction matters now more than ever. History has taught us with every jolt, stepback, and pushing down of our creeds that beckon us to see that all men, women, and non-binary people were created equal. There is a technological adjustment to that pressing down. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, we as a nation must adjust our lenses to a more inclusive view. If we are to ensure that every person in this country may be in pursuit of happiness, we need to ensure that they are endowed with the knowledge and skill sets needed for career, college, and beyond. While our societal skies may be heavy with gray clouds of exclusion, we must continue as educators to examine our beliefs, policies, and practices to ensure that all students regardless of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are given access to high-quality grade level, engaging, affirming and meaningful instruction. Join us as we seek Justice in the Details of Teaching and Learning.

Lacey Robinson is the President and Chief Executive Officer of UnboundEd, a role that accelerates her life’s work to help educators in school systems disrupt bias and systemic racism and its legacies in classrooms. Robinson sets the organization’s vision for equity-driven national change. While continually monitoring the design, delivery, and quality of UnboundEd’s national K-12 educator professional learning programs, Robinson concurrently maintains the nonprofit’s health, sustainability, and future-driven vision for what teaching and learning can be in the 21st century. Her new book is Justice Seekers: Pursuing Equity in the Details of Teaching and Learning.

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1 Comment

Sergio Gonzales
Sergio Gonzales
Dec 20, 2023

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